The concept of “others” or the similar “us vs. them” mindset is rather fascinating to consider, especially in terms of how this perspective influences not only our perception of other individuals but also our perception of other cultures and nationalities. While we may not intend to cast individuals who are different than us as “others,” it is a natural human tendency.

As we studied in my social psychology class, many Western cultures, including the United States, tend to reflect individualistic mindsets, meaning more emphasis is placed on the individual and their own attributes and identities, rather than the collective group. However, in other cultures, such as cultures in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, greater value is placed on collectivism. Given these foundational differences in cultural ideologies – individualism vs. collectivism – we are led to further explore the differences between our Western culture and the culture of other regions such as the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. As we find more differences between the two, we inherently start to characterize individuals in Eastern cultures as “others” or look at it from a lens of “them vs. us.”

 

Individualistic Culture: Definition, Traits, and Examples

What Is a Collectivist Culture? Individualism vs. Collectivism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This concept of “others” is found within our communities. Northern Virginia is a relatively diverse area with individuals from various backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures. Given our proximity to Washington D.C., there still exists the concept of those who belong and those who are cast as an outsider. Growing up, in my high school, individuals from Western cultures were predominantly viewed as belonging, while individuals from Middle Eastern, Asian, and African cultures were viewed as outsiders or plural others. Furthermore, given the demographics of Northern Virginia and the consequent lifestyle, individuals from higher socio-economic classes were viewed as more belonging compared to individuals from lower socio-economic classes.

Even in my college experience at Dickinson, while the college strives to promote diversity and inclusion, the concept of “others” is still prevalent. Given the demographics of Dickinson, I feel that individuals who are from foreign countries, but specifically non-European countries are viewed as the “other” or as plural groups. For example, the current student population at Dickinson is 2,204, of which 24% of students are of color and 13% are international. Given these statistics, both international students and students of color are in the minority, hence these individuals can be perceived as “others” or a part of plural groups. Furthermore, moving away from demographics pertaining to nationalities, I feel like there is another presence of “other” mindset in the sense of athletes versus non-athletes. Given the size of Dickinson, about a quarter of students (if not more) are members of varsity sports teams. This in itself creates the mindset of “others,” in that student-athletes view those who are not fellow athletes as “others” and vice-versa.

 

Dickinson College Diversity: Racial Demographics & Other Stats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In viewing individuals as “others,” this can not only influence our perceptions but also our interactions with them. While we may have our own preconceived notions of different cultures and nationalities, the media plays a significant role in shaping our perceptions. For example, the media coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to the misperception and stereotypes of Middle Eastern cultures, specifically Islamic culture. Due to these misperceptions, individuals outcasted Muslims within the United States and portrayed them as “dangerous” or as “terrorists,” hence harming the interactions with individuals from the Middle East. Similar to the 9/11 attacks, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, misperceptions of Japanese led to the general characterization of all Japanese Americans as “dangerous to national security” thus, resulting in the creation of internment camps.

Each of these two examples depict how preconceptions influence both domestic politics but international politics as well. Given how the United States viewed Japanese after Pearl Harbor and Arabs after 9/11, U.S. foreign policy to these regions drastically shifted. In each of these situations, the U.S. responded with increased hostility, which led to tense and adversarial relations. While these two examples are extremes, it demonstrates how preconceptions of other cultures on a self-level can influence domestic preconceptions, and subsequently influence international preconceptions. Thus, the concept of “other” is not only prevalent in our local communities but also appears on the global scale, as nations perceive other nations as the “other.”

 

 

 

 

For my entire life, I have grown up in the United States, primarily in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. When I was just two years old, my family moved from our home in Colorado to Virginia due to my father being relocated for work in the Air Force. Given the young age at which I moved, I have never considered Colorado to be my home. Home instead for me is Gainesville, Virginia, a suburban town roughly 30 miles from D.C.

Gainesville, in my opinion, is the perfect mix of city and rural lifestyle. If one was to drive roughly fifteen to twenty minutes east, you’d find skyscrapers, massive highways, and endless rush hour traffic. Whereas, if you drove the equal amount of time west, you’d instead find cows, corns and endless pastures. As an individual who dislikes the chaos of city life but also needs to have a Chick-Fil-A (and other food/shopping options) nearby, Gainesville provides a comfortable mix of the two realities.

While my family has established our roots in Gainesville, one of my family’s favorite activities to do together is travel. As children, my family primarily traveled domestically, visiting various National Parks and tourist attractions. However, in recent years, we have expanded our travels to include international, such as countries in South America and in the Caribbean. Travel has always played an essential role in my life, not only because it exposes me to new experiences and sights, but also teaches me about other cultures and lifestyles of individuals in other parts of the world.

Although I have traveled to and explored other states and nations, one region I have not yet explored is the Middle East. While my Arabic courses have exposed me to various cultures and nations within the Middle East, such as Jordan and Egypt, I have not had the opportunity to experience the region firsthand. Hence, I loved our interaction with the AUS students in Sharjah because it provided an opportunity to engage with university students from a different region of the world and to learn about their life experiences and interests and draw similarities and differences between the two cultures.

One similarity was our mutual love for travel. In our breakout room discussion, we each shared an object of significance with the group and explained why the object was important to us. In my breakout room, a few of us, including myself, showed pictures from a vacation or travel experience. One photo that particularly resonated with me was another individual’s visual of Venice. As she displayed her photograph for the group, she explained how her family and her often travel to Venice, and how Venice brings her peace and comfort. This statement stood out to me because I too, associate travel with peace. When I travel, I feel a peace of mind and comfort, because travel provides an opportunity to escape the chaos and responsibilities of everyday life and to be able to explore and experience new adventures for a period of time.

Another key similarity was the importance of family. As students engaged in the breakout room, it was clear how in both cultures, family is a central aspect in our respective lives. For one student’s significant item, she showed an heirloom from her grandmother – a cross necklace symbolic of her Catholicism background. Similarly, another student shared a coffee cup with her cat’s image imprinted on the side, and explained how her cat is important to her and her family. Furthermore, as we discussed our university experience, specifically our studies away from home, we each mentioned how we miss our families, especially our mother’s home-cooking. Through these conversations, the importance of family in each culture was depicted, as we each shared sentimental stories about experiences with family, favorite memories from home, and our love for home-cooked meals compared to meals provided by our respective cafeterias.

Furthermore, as we discussed our families, one girl mentioned how her family is considered a founding family in her town in Jordan. Unfamiliar with this concept, since it is not typical in my hometown for families to be classified as “founding families,” I was intrigued to learn that as a founding family, every street in her town is named after one of her family members. This idea is fascinating to me, as I imagine what it would be like to drive through Gainesville and see road signs with my name as well as my family members’ names on the signs rather than random names such as “Tall Timber” or “Raspberry.”

Overall, our initial conversations with the students of the AUS revealed many similarities but also a few differences between our cultures and respective lives. As an individual who loves to learn about other people and their experiences, I enjoyed these conversations because it shed light on how other university students in different regions of the world live and what their college experiences are like. With that said, I am eager for future interactions to further get to know the AUS students in Sharjah and interact with th